The Ukrainian military has announced plans to introduce a permit system that would prohibit men eligible for conscription from leaving the region where they are registered.
The move, based on 1992 legislation, was intended to make it easier for the country’s armed forces to locate potential conscripts, but it provoked an immediate backlash.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy slammed the announcement in his nightly televised address to the nation on Tuesday, saying the general staff shouldn’t make decisions without him. Two parliamentarians immediately tabled a bill that would cancel the army’s initiative, which they described as “outdated”.
It remains unclear whether movement permits for men will be introduced, but the army’s announcement highlights the precarious position of Ukrainian men who could be drafted into combat at any time.
Since Zelenskiy declared martial law at the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been eligible for military service and not allowed to leave the country. There are some exceptions such as men in poor health or fathers of three or more children.
” I do not want to fight. I want to keep working,” said Roman, a 31-year-old software developer in Kyiv. “But I don’t want to think about it negatively either because a lot of my friends have been mobilized and it’s not fair to them. I try not to think that if I’m mobilized it means 100 per cent that I’m going to die or be injured or see fights.
When martial law was first announced, Ukrainian authorities said conscription would happen in waves, starting with those with previous military experience, and would reflect the needs of the military, focusing on doctors or people with a scientific background, for example. Women can also be mobilized if their work experience is needed but they cannot be coerced and are not expected to fight.
Thousands of Ukrainians have volunteered to fight or be reservists. As of March 6, about 100,000 had enlisted in the Territorial Defense Force alone. But there are also those who fear being sent to the front line, where a horrific artillery battle is raging, and between 100 and 200 Ukrainian soldiers are dying every day.
For some men, the prospect of conscription – and the uncertainty of not knowing when the call might come – looms oppressively.
“The worst thing is that I don’t know how [mobilisation] happening right now,” Roman said. “Will the conscription notice come to my house or will someone just stop me in the street? Should I continue to rent my apartment? should i buy [military equipment] or not?”
Last month, a group of men were arrested by police at Otel, a well-known nightclub in Kyiv, for allegedly breaking curfew and later given conscription notices by the local military administrative office.
Maks Yudin, Otel’s installation artist and technician, and Pavlo Derhachov, Otel’s owner, were among them. Yudin described how they held a daytime event – permitted under curfew rules – and took down the set. He said he went to open the backdoor at 11 p.m. to find a mass of police waiting outside.
“There were like five policemen for every person,” said Yudin, who is originally from Russia but moved to Ukraine in 2019. “The police have demonized this club for a long time even though we have been a base for voluntary work since the start of the war.
Yudin himself volunteered as an army doctor at the start of the war but, despite having a medical degree and previous military experience, he was rejected due to his Russian citizenship.
Otel still serves as a makeshift staging area for aid distribution. Behind the bar are merchandise shelves stacked with merchandise for various towns near the front lines as well as equipment for a battalion they are supporting. On the other side of the dance floor, there is a case of molotov cocktails.
Police said 219 people found at the club had received conscription notices, but Yudin and Derhachov say only 10 to 15 people.
“The kind of conscription notice they gave us looks a bit like spam,” Derhachov said. “They’re designed to encourage people to sign up to fight, but there’s no tracking system. Luckily, there are a lot of those people who will react and want to fight and that’s a good thing.
A second type of conscription notice is delivered to an individual’s home and indicates why the army needs him.
“Since the start of the war, I’ve had a kind of survivor’s guilt syndrome because people are dying and I don’t feel well,” Derhachov said. “I’m really glad they closed the borders [for men] because it forces you to face what is happening even if it is in a passive form. One way or another, you have to participate.
Derhachov said they still hold occasional daytime events, but not the “hedonistic techno raves” that Kyiv was known for before the war. “Each event raised money for the war – the army, a specific battalion or humanitarian aid,” he said.
“We are not at the stage of total mobilization like in World War II,” explained Oleksandr Shulga, a former sociology scholar at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, who pledged to fight on the first day of the war. “There are many people who are ready and preparing to be mobilized. What worries me is that after the war there will be a gap in society between those who fought and those who did not fight.